MMA: Ralek Gracie

Metamoris II technically about roots

June, 10, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
LOS ANGELES -- On Saturday night, it took UFC on Fuel 10 -- a card where the martial arts were very much mixed -- exactly 1:52 to produce its first submission. On Sunday, it took Metamoris II, a no-points jiu-jitsu showcase specifically geared toward submissions, approximately 108 minutes before anybody tapped.

Oh, the irony.

The "anybody" who tapped in this case was none other than Shinya Aoki, who fought aggressively against Kron Gracie in the main event yet got caught at the edge of the apron with a guillotine. Gracie was aided by a spectator who came over, stood at the lip of the elevated platform just as the fighters were about to topple over and presented his back as a barrier.
[+] EnlargeShinya Aoki
Courtesy James LawDespite a losing effort, Shinya Aoki brought recognition and a top-quality MMA product to Metamoris II.

Was it legal? Who knows. The referee was watching the choke. It looked like Aoki might have been trying to drag the action out of bounds to temporarily get rid of the lock around his neck. But it worked out for Kron Gracie, who finished the match seconds later. Now he’s 2-0 in Metamoris (his first victory came over Otavio Souza at Metamoris I). As for Aoki, the spectators appreciated that he passed guard and went for submissions. He played the game the right way (aggressively).

Which was sort of the whole point, exactly how it’s supposed to work and just the way everybody imagined it.

The second Metamoris event was well-run and pretty interesting. Part of the allure was names like the UFC’s Brendan Schaub and Dream’s Aoki -- people with followings in MMA -- to direct some crossover appeal to what amounts to a Brazilian jiu-jitsu exhibition. In that way, Metamoris is the full-circle return to what the Gracie family introduced to the UFC 20 years ago, stripped of all the violent frills.

The legend himself, Royce Gracie, was on hand to accept a lifetime achievement award at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. It was him who ruled UFC’s 1-4 and proved the old Gracie Academy flagship that jiu-jitsu is a “triumph of human intelligence over brute strength.” Now he and his nephew Ralek Gracie have made Metamoris all about that jiu-jitsu in its purest form. And instead of eight matches going on simultaneously (how traditional jiu-jitsu events are normally executed), it was one match, front and center, where the game of “kinetic chess” could play out for all to see.

How did it come off? One curious onlooker said it’s like “watching a couple of the NBA’s sharpshooters play Horse rather than compete in a game.” A description like that hardly justifies the $19.95 asking price of the Internet pay-per-view. As tempting as it is to agree with an assessment like that, it also feels a little extreme.’s Josh Gross, who was on hand, said it better -- “for MMA fans it’s like going to the opera.”

There was something operalike going on with Metamoris, right down to the cathedral hush that came over things as each fight started.

In fact, it almost felt the like the exact opposite of your typical MMA event. It was so quiet through fights that you could hear the zip of the bare feet on the mat. The audience -- made up of Gracie students, Gracies themselves, celebrities of many stripes, and plenty of the hardcore curious -- was thoroughly tuned in to the technical side of what was playing out. When somebody tried to advance their position or pass guard, the cheers were passionate and informed. When Andre Galvao and Rafael Lovato Jr. toiled relentlessly for inside grip, the keener eyes knew. Ditto when Rodolfo Vieira finally passed Braulio Estima’s guard 10 minutes into the project.

People were several steps ahead, watching the set-ups, seeing the intentions unfold and be thwarted. As it should be with a fluid sport. The idea is to educate the eye. Jiu-jitsu’s tension ebbs and flows through anticipation.

Yet, when the UFC’s Brendan Schaub refused to go to the ground with Roberto “Cyborg” Abreu, the hecklers came alive in the tense quiet and let him know. Schaub, who forced Abreu to butt-scoot for nearly 20 minutes (and occasionally drift off in siestas, it seemed), said he was playing it smart.

“I make my living in the UFC,” he said. “If he takes my leg, I’m not going to be able to make a living. I’m not letting the crowd pressure get to me. If I do that, he’s taking home my leg.”

Abreu left empty-handed, but was given the decision. Schaub got a workout in ahead of his UFC fight with Matt Mitrione in July (Mitrione was in attendance, too). In the six bouts, two were draws, three were black-and-white decisions, and only the last one ended in a tap. Four of the battles were in gi, and two without.

Did Metamoris II achieve what it wanted in drawing more attention to the technical battle of the ground game? Probably. At least for those who watched. If you go in for bloodsport, this might have been a little too specific, but it couldn’t help but inform MMA fans just how many layers an MMA practitioner must have to be a complete fighter. For the hardcores in attendance (and there were plenty), the slick jiu-jitsu on display further distanced what they already know to be true from the casuals who have no idea.

All in all, not a bad second showing by Metamoris. The matinee setting with the ominous red lighting gave the thing the right feel. The final “bell” to each fight sounded like a baby grand crashing to the ground from eight stories. That couldn’t help but jar the onlookers. And really, it was necessary from the trancelike state that comes with watching a 20-minute battle between two honed specialists in the very specific field of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

At some point, Metamoris believes, more people will know exactly what they’re watching.

Metamoris II's goal is to be 'pointless'

June, 1, 2013
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Royce GracieBob Riha Jr/Getty ImagesMMA pioneer Royce Gracie is hoping to resurrect the spirit of the old UFC/limited rules days.
In the sheer spectacle days of those first UFCs, when things were barely above ground and still so merrily ominous, Royce Gracie struck a chord with the everyman. He was, at first blush, nothing more than a very unimposing skinny dude in a gi. He was any of us.

Yet, unlike most of us, he entered a tournament of strongmen and brutes in 1993 and wrecked them all. This was very easy to admire. He did the same thing in the spring of 1994, at UFC 2. In fact, UFC’s 1-4 were all about the cult of Royce and, in turn, his father, Helio, and all Gracies. At UFC 5, Royce fought a 36-minute round with Ken Shamrock.

To this day, that remains the UFC’s most unbeatable record (even seven five-minute rounds doesn’t get there). Yet, even then, it wasn’t the most unthinkable. For that, he battled Japan’s Kazushi Sakuraba for 90 minutes in PRIDE, which made Andy Bowen’s 111-round boxing match with Jack Burke back in 1893 seem somehow less fictional.

These feats are part of the reason 46-year-old Royce Gracie is an icon in MMA. Half the UFC's current roster wouldn’t be fighting if Royce hadn’t shattered our notions of what’s effective in a “no holds barred” fight. Most discovered him through VHS and morbid curiosity. Many discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- that game of “kinetic chess” -- at the same time. Here was Royce Gracie, forgoing the violent impulse through the world’s bloodiest assembled bracket, presenting a trump card to bullydom with superior technique.

His secret has long been out, but in a roundabout way, Metamoris II --happening June 9 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion -- is a return to the spirit of the early UFCs. It’s trying to get at the original muse, as filtered through the Gracie lineage. Only, rather than being a proving ground for the gamut of opposing disciplines, it’s been honed to take the training wheels off of grappling tournaments specifically. Royce’s nephew Ralek Gracie came up with the idea. And that idea, in its relative infancy, is this: Metamoris seeks to bring Brazilian jiu-jitsu closer to “as real as it gets.”

That means getting rid of points.

“Ralek and I talked a lot ... about it, and the thing is, martial arts in general were not built for points,” Royce told “Martial arts in general, besides maybe tai chi -- which is more for meditation -- were built for self-defense. It was for a street fight situation, not to score a point. Sometimes you watch a tournament with a point system, and it’s not the best fighter that wins. It’s the guy who scores more points and then he runs away and hides. So Ralek took away all the points. There’s no point system.”

In a nutshell, Metamoris combines the totality of a fight with the technical side of grappling. Stalling strategies, so common to BJJ tournaments, aren’t rewarded. As Ralek points out, “submissions are the only goal.” If a submission can’t be pulled off in a single 20-minute round, the three judges -- all of them known Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners, whom Ralek refers to as “curators” -- conspire to pick a winner. There are no draws.

“That’s how it should be,” Royce says. “The three referees watch the match like a spectator would. Like a fan. Just observing. And, since there’s no points, they’ll decide who controlled the fight the most.”

Metamoris II, a PPV event being offered on the Metamoris site for $19.95, will feature some brand names in MMA and will split six bouts between gi and no-gi action. UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub will face Roberto Abreu, and the main event pits DREAM and OneFC lightweight champion Shinya Aoki against Kron Gracie, also in a no-gi fight.

“Aoki is a very tough opponent,” Royce says. “He finishes all his fights by submission, so he likes to submit people. And not just submit them but break them. He’s always breaking people’s arms, and people tap and he keeps hanging onto it.”
[+] EnlargeAoki
Mark J. Rebilas for ESPN.comFighters like Shinya Aoki will likely benefit from Metamoris' pro-aggro/no-points approach.

And here, Royce laughs a little sadistically. “It’ll be good.”

The other three fights are gi matches: Braulio Estima versus Rodolfo Vieira, Mackenzie Dern against Michelle Nicolini and Andre Galvao against Rafael Lovato Jr. -- heavy hitters in the jitz world. All fighters will weigh in the morning of the show, yet there aren’t strict weights that a fighter must adhere to. It’ll be ballpark. Very loose and negotiable. Very Gracie.

“In the future, we’ll have weight classes and belts, but we might also have an open-weight division, too, where a guy who’s 250 pounds could fight a guy who’s 150 pounds.”

Ring a bell? That sort of matchmaking harks back to Royce’s heyday. Yet Royce, 20 years after making his mark, just wants to see his bread-and-butter discipline in a more realistic context.

“If somebody comes up and pinches your girlfriend on the behind, you’re not going to say, ‘Hey, hold on, honey, I’ll take care of this,’ then turn around and say, ‘How much do you weigh?’ Royce says. “In a street fight situation, there’s no weight division, there’s no time limits.”

There is a time limit in Metamoris, but the design is to show off the entire game within the game of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Striking is prohibited, which allows the many branches and dialects of grappling to stand out.

“What I personally love is that each competitor can come in with his or her own style, and use that style to best of their ability, and not get judged for things like being on bottom,” Ralek says. “I like that we’re going to see a full spectrum of jiu-jitsu. Points systems can’t help but create the style that people come in with, which makes it one-dimensional. And that’s all backwards because jiu-jitsu is multidimension.”

That’s a lot of high-minded concepts under one roof. Here is a promotion in which judges go off of general gut feeling and the eye-test -- the way a seasoned fan might -- and practitioners are asked to do away with the tactical conservatism of normal BJJ competitions all at once. Crazy? Maybe.

Then again, Metamoris could help educate fans and officials alike with the many intricacies of the ground game -- the one area in MMA where more education is needed.

“Or it could be a disaster and not work at all,” Ralek laughs. “But we’ve got to try.”